Sept. 26--LAKEWOOD -- Small jets will be able to land at the Lakewood Airport after grant-funded upgrades to extend the approach and takeoff fields of the runway are completed within the next three months.
Township officials said they hope the modifications will be the catalyst for growth in the township's 2,100-acre industrial park.
Watch the video above to hear about some of the modifications planned.
The dual-runway airport, which opened in 1947, is located in the center of the park, which employs more than 11,000 people, said Steven Reinman, director of the Lakewood Economic Development and acting township manager. A $220,500 grant -- compliments of the Federal Aviation Administration -- will fund the upgrades to the township-owned airport.
Lakewood is poised to purchase two small pieces of land for about $60,000 from businesses adjacent to the airport to lengthen the access to the 3,000-foot runway, Reinman said. Tall pine trees, clustered on nearby Swarthmore Avenue, will be cut shorter so aircraft can begin to descend sooner and allow small jets to land there, he said.
"The cost of the tree topping could be several thousand dollars," Reinman said, though the grant money will pay for 90 percent of the upgrades. The township and state will each provide five percent toward the cost, he said.
Aviation Charter Patrol leases the grounds and essentially runs the day-to-day services at the airport, said Matt Applegate, the operator in charge.
A majority of the traffic at the airport now is propeller plane and helicopters.
"Today, a lot of people arrive by helicopter who would more likely come in on a small corporate jet," Reinman said.
The grant money coincides with a newly passed township ordinance to prevent more nonprofit businesses from opening adjacent to the perimeter of the airport, securing that property for commercial use only. Several private schools and health care facilities have opened in the industrial park and take away from the tax base because of their nonprofit status.
On average, the airport serves 44 airplanes a day, according to aviation statistics from 2011.
Many novice pilots learn to fly at the airport under the guidance of an instructor. The airport is home to the Pineland Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol.
With the upgrades, the mission of the airport is clear, attract more businesses to the Lakewood Industrial Park, Reinman said.
Tom Flieger, a 67-year-old flight instructor from Middletown and a member of the Civil Air Patrol, said the improvements will benefit Lakewood's economy.
"This place is very viable unit," he said. "During (superstorm) Sandy, this was a pretty busy little place because it is so close to the water."
The airport also is a major hub for summer banner plane advertising. The airport is home to about nine banner planes that work from Memorial Day through Labor Day. During the rest of the year, the planes fly to Florida to do banner advertisements, Applegate said.
The airport improvements will allow pilots to base their planes at the airport. There are some hangars, and more are planned.
The runway in Lakewood is about half the length of the Ocean County Airport in Berkeley, which accommodates larger corporate jets, said Len Boyd, president of Ocean Aire, which runs Ocean County Airport.
"But airport traffic is way more location oriented. People are not going to fly into Trenton if they have business in Toms River," he said. "If their business is in Lakewood, they will go there. Or, to the next closer airport, here or Monmouth Executive" in Wall.
The 673-acre site with a 7,300-foot runway, once called Allaire Airport, is one of the largest privately-owned, jet-capable airports in the country.
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The airport is a strategic piece in the fast-growing county's economic development plan.
City leaders are planning to expand the centrally located airfield in the next few years, which could lure business from other airports in Pierce and King counties.